It was the fall of 1985 (Sep-Oct), I can’t remember the exact month and date. I just remember certain details. I was in the middle of a one year tour on the island of Okinawa, Japan. I was in the United States Marine Corps and I had only been on island a few months, when I got a call that I needed to go home for “emergency leave”. Nobody said much more than that, and I spent that long flight (approx 16 hours and across the international date line), running every possible scenario through my head.
When I landed at Lambert that fall day in 1985, to the best of my recollection I was greeted by my family minus a couple of people one of which was my Mom. On the drive from St Louis to St Francisville Illinois, my dad gave me the news…..my mom had cancer. She had gone in for a procedure at which it was discovered she had abdominal cancer and it was to far advanced. At this point the end result would not be one that was good, in my eyes. So I was knocked to my knees. I had run alot of scenarios through my head, but not THIS ONE. I couldn’t believe this woman who took care of me when I was a young lad getting into the trouble that kids my age do, to a young man who was in the United States Marine Corps and stationed miles from home. This fact did not prevent her from writing me letters, sometimes two a day. I remember the letters always opened the same, “Just a few lines……”
And every letter was short and sweet, and I could always read when sometimes the handwriting would eventually get very, very illegible. But I could always count on that letter, even when I was stationed a measley 300 or so miles away in Kansas City, Missouri. She’d still manage to shoot me a letter to fill me in on the goings on in St. Francisville, Illinois. How my local high school was doing, or how my brother or sister or dad were doing. So this just couldn’t be happening. No way she could be sick! I remember some other details, my sister was pregnant and mom and dad were going to have their first grandchild. I just never, ever imagined this happening…not to this woman who was so strong for me as a kid
Everyone says I look like my mom by the way. I would agree. So here we are now this woman, who I knew for 22 years, was now dying and I just didn’t know how to handle this. Now having been told that her expectancy was a year tops was an understatement. She was in a ton of pain, and in need of heavy, heavy pain meds. I think I remember that my family, would in order for her to come home have to learn how to give her pain shots. I think they even had to practice on oranges. I, of course was still active duty and had to continue doing my duties for our country. Granted nothing as heroic as the young men and women of today’s military. I always tell military folks that I was “just a data dync” as we called it… I printed their paychecks, Leave and Earning Statements and W-2’s”. Nothing to glamorous by today’s military standards. But as it would go, I would eventually return back to Okinawa Japan, and complete my year tour there before being re-assigned back to Kansas City. This was part of my re-enlistment, bonus and choice of duty station. And there was no doubt where I wanted to be considering the circumstances. As it would go, I would take Emergency Leave a few times as it was “about that time”. But my mom was a fighter, and she swore she would not go away without seeing her first ever grandson. As it so happened she lived to see that and then some. Finally, in November of 1987, I got the call to go home again for Emergency Leave. This time though something was different, all the other times I would go, she would still be at the house I lived in. And of course she’d be either in major pain or doped up on pain meds, but she was still very cognizant and lucid and talkative and all the things I remember my mom being. This time was different, I even remember it was shortly after the Marine Corps Birthday, so I decided to take my Marine Corps Dress Blues with me this time. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. This time instead of going to my house, I went to the hospital where my mother was. And this time, this woman was not the woman I grew up knowing. This time she was frail, and she didn’t seem to recognize anyone. I don’t know what made me do it, but I went to where I was staying and put on my Dress Blues, and went back to the hospital. It was so strange, I stepped into the room and she sat up and said… “THERE’S MY BOY!” As if she was saying good bye. Later than night, (November 17th, a week after the Marine Corps birthday and three days after my sister’s birthday) as we took turns spending the night with her, and it was my sister Linda and I sitting at her bed we noticed that she had stopped breathing. And like that it was over. She was gone and so was the pain. I had to leave the room and go somewhere else because I did not want anyone to see this tough Marine cry. We then called my Dad and my brother and the process of the laying her to rest was at hand. I remember at the funeral, all of us wore our uniforms, I had buddies in town that were in both the Army and the Navy, and I proudly wore my dress blues.
See I really don’t celebrate Mother’s Day, although that is wrong thinking. I had a wonderful mother, I have a wonderful wife who is a Mother to our cats (although they’re like kids to us). I have a great sister who is a Mother, to that very grandson my mom lived to see born. And who is now over 21 and is now a young man himself…God how I feel old just typing that. And of course I have a wonderful Mother-In Law, who has been like a Mother to me, and who accepted me and my weaknesses and strengths as if I was her own. So I do in fact truly have Mother’s all around me. But I want to encourage each and everyone of you, that still have the luxury of having the Mother who gave birth to you and took care of you. Who punished and praised you, and fed and cared for you. I want to encourage you to never, ever take this day for granted. It’s ironic that today being Mother’s Day and the St Louis Cardinals are at home at Busch Stadium, using the pink bats to battle Breast Cancer. Cancer is a mean thing and needs to be fought and stricken away forever. So everyone please remember to tell your Mom…..HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY